‘Tea then? Go on, let’s have a brew.’ Lee slammed the door of the giant fridge and picked up an electric kettle. ‘Sit down.’
It seemed childish not to.
Lee turned and looked across at him with a grin.
‘I told you. I’m not stupid. I was stupid but I ain’t stupid now. But what are you going to do, And? What plans you got, now you’re a free man?’
His pride was up. He couldn’t bring himself to say it.
‘There you go then.’
The kettle began to hiss. Lee took down two mugs from a rail above his head.
‘I’m looking for people. Always lookin’.’
‘Just listen, will you?’
‘No. Where’d you get all this? House. Car. You don’t tell me this is hard graft. No one gets this lot in a year or two for grafting. You was skint, you was living two rows from Michelle last I knew. You didn’t even bloody go down for that job. Half the time I did, I did for you, Carter.’
‘I didn’t smash a man’s head down into the concrete.’
‘Oh shut it, Andy. Here.’ He shoved the mug of tea across the table. ‘It’s done with. You’re out of there, aren’t you?’ Lee pulled out a chair with his foot and sat down.
Andy drank the hot sweet tea. Prison tea. In spite of himself he wanted to hear. Maybe it was true and something legit had bought all this. He looked out of the window behind Lee’s head. The garden was mainly lawn and elaborate trellis, with a bird bath, a couple of urns, a white-painted iron pump. There was a single bed of roses which had been pruned down to their stumps. They stood out of the bark chippings at their base like rotten teeth out of a septic mouth.
He thought of the prison market garden. He didn’t want to be back there but he wanted to be outside.
‘Horses.’ Lee said, following his eye. ‘Horses bought this lot.’
Andy remembered now. Lee had always been at the bookies, or on the phone to one. He’d kept on at Andy to go to the races with him but he’d never been that interested.
‘Bollocks,’ he said now. If he knew anything about gambling, on horses or anything else, it was that in the long run you lost. ‘Mug’s game.’ It had to be drugs. Had to be. He wanted the fresh air more than ever.
Lee picked up the teapot and held it out. Andy shook his head.
‘I woke up one morning and there it was in front of me. Big red letters. Mug’s game. So that was the answer. There’s always mugs.’
‘You bought a betting shop then?’
‘Listen. All the years I was at it, ten, twelve years – backing the gee-gees, winning some, losing some, but mainly losing, and I saw who was really making money. Yes, right, the bookies. But apart from them … tipsters, that’s who. Not your sad little one-man, some no-hope ex-jock. Top stuff. Classy. Like an exclusive club. I paid out a fortune in my day to them tipping agencies. Promising to make you a fortune, inside information, all that crap. You got to have something different and you gotta do more than read the sports pages trying to pick nailed-on chances. The ones who can tip the real big winners, the winners nobody’s picked, the 10–1 and 25–1 shots, those services can charge what they like … ten, fifteen grand a year, maybe more. That’s nothing. I used to play in fifties, hundreds. My clients now, they deal in thousands every bet. First thing you got to do is let them believe it’s hard to get in, that your service is exclusive and membership’s limited. You turn people down flat. Don’t give them a reason. Word soon gets round and they’re crawling on their hands and knees to you. Clubs do it, it even goes on with fuckin’ clothing, for Christ’s sake – designer gear. Lynda has her name down for six months for some fuckin’ handbag that costs two grand because there’s only ever going to be fifty of them made. It’s bollocks but it’s a must have. So’s membership of my service.’
‘What’s it called?’
‘LER. For Limited Edition Racing.’
‘So you find the outsiders that win.’
‘No. Not these days. They test everything that moves.’
‘I told you, there’s ways.’
‘How many members in this club?’
‘Six hundred and a few.’
Andy looked round the kitchen again. There were rows of orange-coloured iron casseroles and saucepans on top of the units. They didn’t look as if anyone ever took them down to cook with.
‘Is that all?’
‘There’s other stuff. I trade a bit.’
Andy looked at him.
‘No. I never done drugs, never will.’
‘So it’s all clean.’
‘Well, it ain’t robbin’ banks.’
‘I’m always looking for people. You’ll need a leg-up.’
Andy stood up. ‘I gotta get back. There buses round here?’
‘As if. Listen, you don’t want to live with Michelle for ever, do you? Like your own place, wouldn’t you?’ Lee gestured round.
‘What I get I’ll work for.’
‘It was work I was talking about.’
‘I’ll find my own.’
‘What, mowing lawns? You can do that here, give you a tenner an hour. That’s what gardening pays. Come on, Andy.’
‘Who said anything about gardening?’
‘I know what you’ve been doing inside. There’s plenty I know. I’ve still got stuff on you.’
‘OK, so there isn’t a bus, I’ll walk down to the main road, hitch a lift.’
Lee swept the car keys off the table into his hand.
‘There’s a lot of funny people about, Andy,’ he said. ‘Difficult for an ex-con to get work.’
Andy spun round. Lee raised a finger. He was grinning.
‘And here was I thinking you’d changed,’ he said.
Lee Carter had a baby face. Curly hair. Every mother’s favourite son. Never trust a baby face. Stick Martin had told him that.
It’ll never be any different, Andy thought, it’d be Carter or one of the others, or else his prison record like a weight round his neck and a brand on his forehead. You couldn’t get away. Not ever. He thought of the sleek little probation officer trotting out her jargon. Whatever he did or didn’t do for the rest of his life he’d never get away.
He’d made the football pitch himself out of the top of a cardboard box. He had painted it green and marked out the lines with black marker pen and the goalposts were cut out of wood from the shed. The nets had been a problem until he’d found two of the little white bags for putting washing tablets in and attached them carefully with thread. It was good. He was pleased with it. Now he was going to think about how he could construct the stands.
‘David! It’s twenty to.’
David Angus stood looking down at the box for as long as he dared, trying to visualise it, trying to work it out. He half closed his eyes.
‘And it’s Giggs, Giggs has it, Giggs has passed it across …’
The crowd was roaring.
He sighed and picked up his school bag. He’d come back to it tonight.
‘You’ve got ham and cucumber in your sandwiches, don’t forget to eat those and the banana before you eat the cake.’
‘Did you cut the fat off?’
‘I cut the fat off. Do you need money for anything today?’
He thought. Tuesday?
‘No, but I need to take the note back about the history outing.’
‘On the table in front of you.’
His mother was pulling on her jacket. His sister Lucy had already gone, met by two friends to walk together down to the school bus at the corner of Dunferry Road. She now went to Abbey Grange. David was still at St Francis.
‘I’m in court all day but I’ll be out in time to pick you up. We need to get you some shoes.’
‘Can we go for a milk shake at Tilly’s after?’
‘Afterwards. We’ll see.’
Why did they always say we’ll see first, even when they knew whether it was yes or no? We’ll see, we’ll see … they couldn’t seem to help saying it.
‘Come on, Doodlebug.’
David picked up his bag.
It wasn’t raining, that was all he noticed. Not raining, not freezing cold. Otherwise morning was morning. His mother got into the car and held open the door. David went forward and bent in. He didn’t mind kissing her here at home, especially when she was actually inside the car. He wouldn’t have done it outside school.
‘Have a good day, Doodlebug. See you tonight.’
He waited until she’d edged out of the drive into the road and driven off, then wandered to the gate. His father had gone an hour before. He was always in the hospital by half past seven. David put his bag on the ground and waited, watching for the car. It was the Forbeses’ week. The Forbeses had a dark blue Citroën Zsara. It wasn’t the best lift, that was when it was the di Roncos’ week and the people carrier with blacked-out windows slowed up beside him. Di Ronco’s father had been in one of the most famous bands of the eighties and had big rings on every finger and tattooed-in sideburns. Di Ronco’s father made them laugh all the way to school and swore four-letter words.
Cars sped past him down the road. Work. School. Work. School. Work. School. Silver Mondeo. White Audi. Black Ford Focus. Silver Ford Focus. Silver Rover 75. Red Polo. Sick-green Hyundai. Blue Espace. Maroon Ford Ka.
There were more silver cars than any other colour, he’d proved it.
Black Toyota Celica. Silver BMW.
The Forbeses weren’t usually late. Not like the di Roncos. They always were, once by half an hour and di Ronco’s dad had just breezed into the school whistling and shouting, ‘Don’t start without us!’
He tried to picture Mr Forbes doing that and nearly fell over laughing.
He was still laughing a bit when the car drew up beside him, laughing too much to take in that the colour was wrong and that someone had opened the door and was pushing him roughly inside as the wheels spun hard away from the kerb.
At the last minute, Simon Serrailler turned the car away from Lafferton and took the route along the bypass for a mile and then off into the country. Before returning to the station, he would go and see Martha who was in her care home again. Once he was back into the action he might not get another chance for days, and he knew that even if Martha did not take in his presence her carers in the home certainly did and welcomed it. Too many of the other patients had been virtually abandoned by their families, never visited or even sent cards at Christmas and birthdays. He had heard the staff talk about that often enough. He knew which ones had been left. Old Dennis Troughton whose life had begun with cerebral palsy and was ending with Parkinson’s disease. Miss Falconer, huge and inert and vacant-eyed, with the brain of a baby and the body of a mountainous middle-aged woman. Stephen, who jerked and twitched all the time and had two or three life-threatening fits a week, who was seventeen and whose parents had not seen him since he was a baby. Simon had occasionally vented his anger about them to Cat, but with her medical detachment she had always agreed with him while putting forward the other point of view.
The morning traffic had eased by the time he was on the bypass and once he left it and drove towards Harnfield he saw few other cars. The fields were empty, trees still bare. He went through two villages which were deserted, dormitories now for Lafferton and Bevham. Neither had a shop or a school, only one had a pub. Few people actually worked on the land or in the villages themselves any more. Harnfield was much larger, with both a primary and a comprehensive school and some clumps of new housing. It also had a business park. People were about. Harnfield was not specially attractive but it had a community and a sense of life.
Simon turned left down the narrow lane leading to Ivy Lodge.
‘I didn’t know if we’d get her back.’ Shirley, Martha’s carer for the day, went ahead of him along the brightly painted corridor. ‘She was so poorly.’
‘I know. They fetched me back from Italy.’
‘But she rallies every time, I suppose we ought to be used to it. She’s so strong.’ Shirley paused at the open door of Martha’s room. ‘Whatever anyone says, she must get enough out of life to want to keep going, you know.’
Simon smiled. He liked Shirley, with her slight squint and the gap between her front teeth. One or two of the other carers gave the impression that the end of the shift couldn’t come soon enough and that they did the minimum merely to keep his sister clean, comfortable and fed. Shirley talked to her and spoke of her as an individual whom she knew and liked even though she could find her wearing. He knew it was rare and he was grateful.
Martha’s room was bright, with buttercup-yellow walls and white-painted furniture, a room for a child; it always cheered Simon as he went in.
His sister was propped up in bed. Her hair had been freshly brushed and tied back and there was colour in her cheeks and a brightness in her eyes. She sat looking towards the light coming in through the windows and watching the breeze shift the yellow and green curtains about.
‘Hello, darling. You look so much better!’ He walked in and took her hand. It was soft, the skin like satin; even the bones seemed soft as the hand lay inert between his own. ‘I came over when they said you were back from the hospital and I bet you’re glad. All those tubes and machines meant I couldn’t see you properly.’
Shirley tucked in the bedclothes at the end of Martha’s bed, and closed the door of the wardrobe. ‘I’ll see you later, sweetheart,’ she said to Martha, waved and went out.
The room was peaceful. Martha was peaceful. She would lie here like this until someone came to turn her, to clean her, change her, give her physiotherapy, move her into a chair, feed her, hold her drinking cup; she was as dependent as a baby, unable to do the smallest thing, for herself or for anyone else.
She smelled of soap and clean sheets. There was never any other smell on her, never anything sour or dirty in the air of her room. Her care couldn’t be faulted.